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Visiting The Majestic War Memorials of The Former Yugoslavia

The futuristic giants that stand still against the time

For anyone who grew up in the Balkans, the memorials of the National Liberation Struggle – or Partizanski spomenici – are almost a part of the landscape. They appear on mountains and in parks, usually to mark the sites of major WWII battles or places of massacre and execution. Nowadays, many of them have fallen into disrepair and especially for visitors to the region, the sight of these seemingly forgotten giants can be quite mesmerising.

That’s what British photographer Darmon Richter found, when he travelled around the Balkans in April 2016 visiting the remaining Yugoslav memorial sites. As well as photographing 37 of the monuments, Richter wrote on his blog about how Western media had given him a false impression about the places. Many online articles describe them as ‘abandoned,’ with photos that make them look grey and miserable. But Richter’s experience was completely different to what he expected.

“In reality the Balkan region is one of the most colourful places I’ve ever been,” he writes, “and the spomenici themselves are vibrant things, full of energy and very often surrounded by people.”

Take a look at the following photos, and see for yourself.

Memorial to the Victims of Fascism at Sanski Most, Bosnia & Herzegovina (Petar Krstić, 1971). During WWII, Sanski Most was controlled by the Croatian fascist Ustaše regime. The first open conflict between insurgent Serbs and Ustaše forces took place here, an event known as the Đurđevdan Uprising. The Makedonium or ‘Ilinden Spomenik’ at Kruševo, Macedonia (Jordan Grabuloski & Iskra Grabuloska, 1974). The building contains a well-maintained museum commemorating the Ilinden Uprising of 1903 and the creation of the short-lived ‘Kruševo Republic.’ Monument to the Brave at Ostra, Serbia (Miodrag Živković & Svetislav Licina, 1969). Here in 1944 a small partisan division took on a combined German and Italian force of 500 soldiers, to liberate the nearby town of Čačak. Most of them died in the process. Garavice Memorial Park at Bihać, Bosnia & Herzegovina (Bogdan Bogdanović, 1981). More than 12,000 ethnic Serbs were arrested and executed in Bihać, between July and August 1941. This monument commemorating the dead was damaged by shells during the Bosnian War. Banj Brdo Memorial Ossuary at Banja Luka, Bosnia & Herzegovina (Antun Augustinčić, 1961). Built in the earlier socialist-realist style, the panels illustrate scenes of oppression, rebellion, combat and victory. The Sniper Monument at Popina, Serbia (Bogdan Bogdanović, 1981). The Popina spomenik marks the location where Tito’s partisan forces first met the German Wehrmacht in open combat. It is designed as four sections that resemble the sights on a rifle. Valley of Life in the Slobodište Memorial Park at Kruševac, Serbia (Bogdan Bogdanović, 1965). The 12 stone birds represent liberated souls rising out of the mass graves beneath. This memorial park is popular with locals, and has been recognised as a significant ‘Cultural Monument of Serbia.’ Kadinjača Memorial Park at Užice, Serbia (Miodrag Živković & Aleksandar Đokić, 1979). This well-preserved memorial complex marks the site where partisans fought to liberate nearby Užice from Axis control. Covering an area of 15 hectares, it features white concrete sculptures, a museum and an amphitheatre. Mausoleum of Struggle and Victory at Čačak, Serbia (Bogdan Bogdanović, 1980). The structure consists of three segments, a symbolic mausoleum covered in the carved heads of mythical creatures. Three Fists Monument in the Bubanj Memorial Park at Niš, Serbia (Ivan Sabolić, 1963). Mass executions of Serbs, Roma and Jews were conducted here between 1942 and 1944, claiming roughly 10,000 victims. Among other memorial features, appear these three concrete fists raised in defiance of the enemy. Freedom Monument at Berane, Montenegro (Bogdan Bogdanović, 1972). During WWII the population of Berane was divided in conflict, between nationalist and partisan factions. This bullet-shaped memorial honours the victims. Memorial Ossuary at Veles, Macedonia (Savo Subotin & Ljubomir Denkoviḱ, 1980). Designed to resemble a poppy, this mausoleum celebrates local partisans and features the largest mosaic complex in Macedonia, created by the artist Petar Mazev. Victory Monument at Prilep, Macedonia (Bogdan Bogdanović, 1961) The installation was built to commemorate 20 years since the formation of the local partisan detachment, at this location in October 1941. Monument to the Detachment in Brezovica Forest at Sisak, Croatia (Želimir Janeš, 1981). In June 1941, as the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, a group of Yugoslav communists met here beneath an old elm tree to form the 1st Sisak Partisan Detachment. This 20-metre spomenik was designed to symbolise that tree. Monument to the Revolution of the People of Moslavina at Podgarić, Croatia (Dušan Džamonja, 1967). This site commemorates a local uprising against the Ustaše. The opening ceremony was attended by President Tito himself. Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija at Petrova Gora, Croatia (Vojin Bakić, 1981). Partisan Memorial Cemetery at Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina (Bogdan Bogdanović, 1965). Designed by master architect Bogdan Bogdanović, this symbolic necropolis held the remains of 810 local partisan fighters. Tito himself conducted the inaugural ceremony, but the site has since been badly damaged by vandals. Monument to the Revolution on Mount Kozara, Bosnia & Herzegovina (Dušan Džamonja, 1972). Originally funded by voluntary donations, this 33-metre monument and surrounding memorial park is very well maintained. The museum offers a history of the 1942 Kozara Offensive, a battle that claimed almost 30,000 lives. Stone Flower Monument at Jasenovac, Croatia (Bogdan Bogdanović, 1966). Built over the ruins of the former Jasenovac forced labor and extermination camp, the monument commemorates the many thousands of victims killed here by the fascist Ustaše regime in Croatia.

If you enjoyed these photographs, be sure to check out Darmon Richter’s full collection over on The Bohemian Blog – where you can also read his full essay about the Yugoslav memorial sites.

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